Feeling like a good old meat pie…
“You’re so far away from home!” This is the typical reaction we get when asked where we are from and our response is ”Australia…and France”. Though I always like to think that home is wherever the boat is, we are indeed away from our respective birth countries.
Not to say that we get homesick, but we do like to observe some of our special days and celebrate the way we would at home. Take Father’s Day. The French, Americans, Canadians, and Mexicans all celebrated their Dads back in June (including me). However Australia’s Father Day falls on the first Sunday of September, and there was no way the kids would change that tradition.
So on September 1, Terry was probably the only person waking up to his children’s “Happy Father’s Day”! As per family tradition, he was to spend the day as he pleased and order whatever he wanted to eat. We had intended to go scuba diving , all four of us, but thunderstorms and lightning stuffed up that plan. It ended up being a movie day instead. Personally I didn’t mind, as it meant spending time in the galley which I much preferred rather than trying to climb back on a diving boat in a middle of a storm!
Terry’s request for dinner was a “good old Aussie meat pie”. Now, that doesn’t sound like much, unless you are an expat Aussie! 7 months in Mexico, and this Shire boy is growing tired of empanadas, burritos, and tacos. So, I went to work.
The pie filling was easy: I had all the ingredients on board, but for the beef. It took some searching, figuring the Mexican equivalent of “chuck steak”, to eventually settle for chambarete de res or beef shanks ( otherwise used for osso bucco).
The pastry, on the other hand was a challenge. Puff pastry is near impossible to find where we live on the Riviera Maya. In fact, all that is available in the supermarkets or delis is pre-shaped graham cracker crusts or frozen phyllo pastry. So I but the bullet, and turned to my trusted Robert Carrier Cookbook, and its 45 pages devoted to pies and pastries. There, on page 759, was the recipe for Flaky Pastry, which I favoured over the Puff Pastry as it involved “only” 3 turns instead of 7. The ingredients required were the same in both cases (flour, butter, iced water, salt), so was the technique, but this being my first time and the humid weather melting the butter faster than desirable, I went for the shorter option. Still, it took me a good hour to knead, roll, spread, fold, turn…3 times. But felt quite an achiever as I cradled the buttery parcel to the fridge to rest.
Terry was so excited at the prospect, he mentioned how his favourite part of the pie was the pastry enclosing the meat. That’s when it hit me. I had made enough flaky pastry to cover the top, not worrying about the bottom. Terry’s comment? “Ohhhh, that’s a French meat pie. A real aussie meat pie has pastry top and bottom, so you can hold it in your hands!” Nothing peeves me more than being told I’m not cooking things right. So, opened the book again, and sure enough, on page 777, there is an entire section about raised pies! Well, wasn’t I happy that the diving expedition was cancelled, it gave me spare time to try my hand at rich raised pie crust making.
Raised pies are generally served cold, so the crust needs to be rather solid in texture to absorb the juices and still retain its shape. Ordinary raised pie crust is made with water, lard, flour and salt. The addition of egg and butter makes it richer, what you want when lining a mould, as I planned to. My only issue with the recipe was the use of lard. To be honest, though it’s easily available in Mexico, it’s not the kind of ingredient I keep on board ( something to do with the look and smell of the plastic wrapped blob sold in the supermarket, maybe). However, I happen to find a tub of duck fat stuck at the back of the fridge, which I had forgotten I had. It was unopened, still carrying its New York price tag from Zabar (just as well, it keeps for ages!) A little softer to handle than lard, it was a perfect substitute for it. Overall, making this crust took a fraction of the time required for flaky pastry: 10 minutes tops.
Both pastries kept each other company in the fridge, while the filling cooked and cooled. Assembling the pie was child’s play. Since we didn’t have individual pie dishes, I served it family style in a 9” deep pie dish along with steamed broccoli ( we needed a healthy side, right?). It cut well, but the amount of filling was such that Terry couldn’t eat it with his hands without the meat being squeezed out the sides. Still, it was delicious and rich, from the pastry and the well-seasoned beef. Paired with a cold lager for Terry and a smooth Argentinian red wine for me, it nearly felt like home…
Australian style meat pie
Adapted from The Robert Carrier Cookbook
4-6 thick slices beef shins (or 1.5 kg chuck steak cut into bite sized pieces)
3 tbsp plain flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
5 tbsp butter
1 large yellow onion finely chopped
1 carrot finely chopped
1 celery stick finely chopped
500 ml rich beef stock
1tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 bay leaf
2 tsp parsley chopped
Flaky pastry (for the lid – see below)
Rich raised pie crust (for the base – see below)
1- Make a rich raised pie crust as directed below. Butter a deep pie dish and line it with pastry. Keep cool in the fridge.
2- Mix flour, salt and ½ tsp ground black pepper and roll the beef shins in this mixture.
3- Melt butter in a thick bottom saucepan ( or a pressure cooker, like I do). Add the beef shins one at a time and brown them thoroughly, turning them over often. When all the shins have been browned, keep them aside while you saute the finely chopped onion, carrot and celery until soft, for about 5 minutes. Add back the beef shins and their juices in the saucepan/pressure cooker, moisten with the beef stock and the Worcesteshire sauce, add remaining black pepper, bay leaf and chopped parsley
4- Stir, cover, bring to the boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook on low for 1 ½ hour ( if using a pressure cooker, wait until the valve “whistles” then reduce to a simmer, and cook on low for ¾ hour).
5- The meat should be very tender. Shred it from the shin bones ( or leave it in chunks if using boneless chuck steak). Allow meat to cool in its own liquid.
6- In the meantime, make a flaky pastry crust as directed below.
7- When cool enough, add meat and liquid to pastry lined pie dish. Place the flaky pastry crust over the meat, moistening and pinching edges to the dish. Make vents in the pastry to allow steam to escape and bake in a hot oven at 230C/450F for 10 minutes. Lower heat to moderate 190C/375F and continue baking for 20 minutes or until pastry crust is golden brown. Serves 6-8
275 g plain flour
Good pinch of salt
Squeeze of lemon juice
200 g butter
1- Sieve flour and salt into a clean, dry bowl and add lemon juice.
2- Divide butter into 4 equal parts. Take one of these pieces and rub it into the flour with the tips of your fingers until mixture is free from lumps (it is vital the butter is very cold and you work quickly, if the butter starts melting or your hands are too warm, it turns into a mess! Alternatively, use a food processor and use the pulse setting)
3- Then add just enough iced water to form dough into one lump. Do not over handle.
4- Turn onto a floured board, knead lightly until smooth and roll into a long narrow strip, approx. 6mm thick.
5- Take one of the remaining portions of butter and with the tip of a knife put it in even rows of small pieces all over the pastry, leaving 25mm margin without butter around the edges. (that’s where it gets tricky: if butter is too hard, it will make ugly lumps, work it on a plate first; if butter is too soft, it will ooze out in a mess, refrigerate it first)
6- Flour the surface lightly. Fold the pastry exactly in 3, like a letter. Turn the pastry ½ round, bringing the joins to the right hand side, and press the folds down sharply with the rolling pin so as to enclose some air.
7- Roll the pastry out again into a long narrow strip, and proceed as before until the 2 remaining portions of butter have been used (again, make sure the butter doesn’t become too soft during the rolling, cool the pastry in the fridge if necessary between turns)
8- The last time, roll the pastry out to the desired thickness, if it needs widening, turn it across the board and roll across.
9- Wrap in gladwrap and rest in the fridge for ½ hour (It will keep it there for several days. Bring back to room temperature for 20mn before using again) .
Rich raised pie crust
225 plain flour
½ tsp salt
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp duck fat (or lard)
1 egg yolk
Water (up to 150ml)
1- Sieve the flour and salt, rub in the butter and the duck fat (or lard) until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. (I sometimes use the food processor on pulse setting when I don’t want my hands to get dirty!))
2- Bind together with the egg yolk and a little water, keeping the pastry as dry as possible.
3- Knead well, wrap in gladwrap and rest in the fridge for ½ hour. (This pastry will keep there for a few days while wrapped. Bring back to room temperature for 20mn before using again.)